Intel's Ronler Acres Plant

Silicon Forest

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Bicycles

Both of my boys have taken an interest in bicycles recently. We have pulled out Mom's and my old bikes and they have been riding wheels off them. My old mountain bike has been sidelined with its' second flat.

Mom's road bike will not shift. It has Shimano indexed shifters that are integrated with the brake levers. The levers move, they pull the cables, the derailers move, but the index does not not click (latch), so as soon as you release the lever they go back to where they were. Wrote to Sheldan "Bicycle Guru" Brown (link to his site is in my "Web Sites of the Month" list) about the problem. He recommended soaking the shifters in WD-40. I had already tried that and it didn't help. So I went to Lucille's Tool Store to look for a tool to remove the special nut on the back of the shifter. I found a pair hefty snap ring pliers for $3.50 that worked pretty well when I clamped them in the vise. Not that is has done me any good. I managed to take the shifters apart, but they are built like a watch. There must be fifty pieces, and half of them are spring loaded. I doubt whether I will ever find the time to master the intricacies of reassembling it.

Sheldon also said that these Shimano RSX shifters are junk. So to get the bike operational again in a timely manner, it looks like I will be buying new shift levers for it. That will run between one and two hundred dollars, depending on the shifter and whether I have the bike shop do it, or do it myself.

John has his eye on mountain bike and Ross is looking for a single speed. Ross and I spent some time looking at bikes yesterday and building a spreadsheet to compare various models. Ross started it Excel and then I imported it into Google documents. We worked on it last night, added pertinent information we thought important. I "shared" it. We shall see how that works out.

Right now our pick hit is the Kona Paddy Wagon, which just so happens was the first bike we looked at last week at Bike Gallery in Beaverton. Interesting that most of the single speed bikes have steel frames (cromo, or Chrome Moly) as opposed to aluminum, whereas most bicycles these days have aluminum frames. Kind of a retro thing all around. Except for the drop bars.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Web Sites for the month

I really like the bicycle messenger video. Part of the reason is the soundtrack. I tried another, similar video on You Tube, but I found the music obnoxious so I quit it.

Uniqlock I got from "Coding Horror". Most of the rest come from my family and friends from various discussions we have been having.

I came across S.F.V.I.S.B.F. in "Ol' Skool Rodz", a "blue collar" hot rod magazine I picked up at the store the other day. I really enjoyed the video and the magazine.

What do I do with this list at the end of the month? Keep it in the layout? There does not seem to be a way to save it off without having to copy each entry by hand. I suppose I could just rename it and move it to the bottom. That way I can postpone having to deal with it for a year anyway.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

What, How & Do

There are three kinds of jobs in the world: jobs where you decide what to do, jobs where you figure out how to do it, and jobs where you do the work. Most people want blue collar jobs, jobs where you just do the work. They have learned how to do something and just want a chance to do that job. Some people have more curiosity and enjoy figuring out how to make things. These are your scientists and engineers. And then there are those who decide what everyone else is going to do. Are we going to war, or are we going to enter trade negotiations? Are we going to build economy cars or big trucks? Are we going to bet on red? Or black?

I have been under the impression that there are good managers and there are bad managers. Now I am not so sure. I am thinking it may be more a matter of incompatible people. Situations where the workers are more competent than the manager is fairly typical. So why is the incompetent person the manager? Bravado, maybe. They know they are incompetent at doing the work, so if they stick with that, which is where most people would really rather be, they will end up getting fired. So they promote themselves to other people, and eventually somebody listens and they get put in charge of something.

Or maybe it is just a matter of being able to put up with people you don't like.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Too Busy to Write

Sad state of affairs? I was really enjoying writing, but it did take time. I have no end of topics to write about, but not much time to spend on it. Things may lighten up soon, so I will be able to finish my epic about our trip to Chicago, and more about life in suburbia.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Movies

"Lonely Hearts" with John Travolta and Salma Hayek
"Resistance"

"Lonely Hearts" with John Travolta and Salma Hayek
Well done, but sad, true story of a conman and his crazy girlfriend, Salma. You could tell she was crazy, they told you so, and she could be violent and unfeeling, but I never got the uncomfortable feeling that crazy movie characters usually give me.

"Resistance" A variation on the World War II love story behind enemy lines. The war movies I like are the ones where the cunning hero is very careful and succeeds. This is not one of those. This story is about a pilot who is very lucky and crawls away from a crash that killed the rest of his crew. Found and nursed back to health by the resistance, he starts acting the fool. He's not afraid, he tells us, and if you think about it, it is understandable. He might be feeling a bit invincible right about now, after all he survived the crash and has a pretty woman looking after him. That kind of bravado is what gets you killed.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Bridge & Other Government Disasters

I remember the Silver Bridge disaster in Ohio when I was a kid. It was a narrow, steel truss over the Ohio River and one winter during rush hour it collapsed and dumped a hundred cars into the freezing water. Lots of people died. It was the first big bridge disaster I had ever heard of, and I thought, well, this will be a wake up call. The people responsible will take action and start inspecting bridges and this will never happen again. Silly boy.

Lately we seem to be having more than the usual number of embezzlements of local government funds around here. I remember hearing about one a year or so ago, and once again, I thought, well this will be a wake up call. All these little local government operations will be taking a close look at their finances and stopping all these embezzlers. Silly boy. We have had one every couple of months since and there doesn't seem to be any sign of it slowing down.

I started reading Al Gore's new book in Powell's bookstore the other day while I was waiting for my gang to finish whatever they were doing. He starts off talking about how fear clouds the mind and inhibits rational thought, and how when all those old famous dead guys were working on the constitution, this was one of their foremost considerations.

Then he starts talking about how the brain works, and what new brainiac researchers are discovering. People make decisions emotionally, and only after they have already made the decision does the rational, conscious brain get to deal with it, and since the deed is already done, the conscious brain gets to rationalize the decisions that the emotional brain has already made. In other words, your conscious mind is only along for the ride. You can try to influence your lower brain, but at some point, the emotional part of your brain makes the actual decision.

This goes along with something I read earlier that was talking about simple actions, like getting a glass of water. It takes milliseconds for a signal from your brain to tell your arm to do something. By the time you realize you want a glass of water, your hand is already holding the glass under the faucet. Your subconscious, emotional brain has already made the decision to get a glass of water, and it is just informing your conscious brain of that fait accompli.

So anyway, Fox News, Rupert Murdoch and Republican Party are engaged in fear mongering in order to sway your vote at the voting booth, and it worked for a while. Hopefully the damage wrought by their self-centered policies is becoming apparent and the Democrats will be able to take control, at least for a while.

At some level, I suspect there is no difference between the Republicans and the Democrats, but what can I do? Besides writing to try and influence other people (of course that can only work on people who bother to read), all I can do is vote, and I will be voting Democrat. Ever since the Republicans tried to bring down Clinton with their smear campaign, I have been repulsed by their vicious attitude towards anything that threatens their accumulation of even greater wealth. To heck with all of them.

Assassains & Car Chases

Car chases have been a staple of cops and robber movies for as long as I can remember. At some point I began to think that, okay, there was a high speed car chase once upon a time, and all of these police stories are using that one chase as a basis for having one in their movie. Then I moved to Phoenix where high speed pursuits are a weekly if not daily affair. I think the constant high temperatures fry peoples brains, or maybe they are just trying to cool off.

Lately assassins seem to be popular subjects for action movies. I have seen a bunch lately. I used to think about these assassination plots the same way I thought about car chases in movies. But at some point my view changed. I suspect there are a bunch of people out there making a living as free lance assassins. Perhaps it was a book I read, or maybe it was one of Morgan Freeman's lines in "The Contract", something about there not being any difference between opposing sides, and to Morgan, the assassin, it is just a job like any other job. Same sort of argument is given by Ned Beatty in "Shooter". Or maybe it is just the culmination of many things, not the least of which is the deaths of journalists in Russia.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Wall Warts

Wall Warts are fact of life these days. Cell phones, network adaptors, printers, all kinds of consumer electronics use them. Wall warts, if you are not familiar with the term, all those little black box like devices that plug into a wall output and have a cord that plugs into your electronic device to supply it with power.

One of the big problems with these things is they are all different. They use different sizes and types of connectors, they supply different voltages and they have different power (amperage) capacities. Some are regulated and some are not. So even if you find one that fits your device, the current coming out of the wall wart may be all wrong. So I was thinking ...

Use the diameter of the plug to determine the voltage, and the length of the plug to determine the power rating. If a system like this were in place, you would not need to try and decipher the black on black numbers embossed in the wall wart to determine if the power was adequate for your device. If the plug fit, it would be good.

Of course you would need to get everyone who was using these things to agree on sizes and shapes to use, and you could not use any current designs because of their random assignment of power and sizes. Someone who could do this would make a lot of friends.

A better idea might be to use the same plug and make wall warts smart so they could deliver whatever power the device required. This could make a whole new market for those people who like to build new widgets for consumers. Window of opportunity is limited though, because it won't be long before batteries will last the life of the device. When the battery dies, you just throw the whole device out and buy and new one.

Engineering Gap

Software development is a lot like the record business, or the movie business. There are a bunch of promoters out there who are looking for the next big thing, hoping to make a fortune. Unfortunately, they have no idea what goes into making a hit, but somehow they manage to scrape enough money together to keep funding these development projects. Anyone who ends up working with these guys is going to suffer from unimaginable aggravation.

I used to be jealous of people who made fortunes in the software business, and to some extent I probably still am, but I never looked at it as a way to make a fortune. An easy living perhaps, but not a way to enormous wealth. I work with software because I enjoy it, and I like to think that after 30 years I am pretty good at it.

Taking the music and movie business analogy a little further, I would be a studio musician, or a bit player in a film. I am not a star. I have no idea what would appeal to the masses, and even if I did, I do not know where I could get funding for it. I know what I like, but Windows and Facebook are not it.

I read somewhere that only something like ten percent of programmers can actually program. The other ninety percent may look like programmers, and they may act like programmers, but they cannot actually write a working program. They may know all the buzzwords, and all kinds of things about software, list the names of all the libraries and their functions, cut and paste blocks of code together, do all the things it looks like programmers do, but they cannot actually write a simple program that will execute.

So here I am, an experienced software engineer who cannot find a job. Maybe I am just not looking hard enough, or maybe I am not looking in the right places, or maybe I am not looking for the right job. The better an engineer I become, the bigger the gap gets between the people who want to get something done and the people like me who could actually do it. Maybe that gap is where I should be looking. Buy what do you call that gap? Engineering management? Translation? Consulting? Counseling, maybe.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Force

I am a software engineer. I like to describe myself as a virtual watchmaker. I write small pieces of code that work directly with hardware to perform certain required functions. If it works, I will generally leave it alone, but if there are problems, I will iteratively comb through it, polishing, adjusting and improving as I go, looking for problems. Occasionally I will come across something, but it usually does not have anything to do with the current problem, but could cause trouble in other circumstances.

My line of work is not much good all by itself. It is only useful as part of a larger enterprise. To successfully make use of my talents, I need a piece of hardware to execute the code I write. I need a marketing and sales operation to sell this device. I need hardware people to design and build the hardware.

Unfortunately, affiliation with a functional organization has eluded me. Generally speaking, the people I have worked with have had all the necessary skills, it is competent management that has been lacking, or in some cases, the lack of commitment on the part of those providing the funding.

"Economy of Force" is an expression that I find very interesting, for it has two meanings, either of which can be applied to any situation where one is trying to accomplish something. The first and sometimes obvious meaning is to economize the use of force. Do not use any more force than necessary to get the job done.

The second and slightly more obscure meaning comes from the military and means just the opposite. It applies where there is some doubt about the situation. For instance, you have a report of some bad guys over the hill. It does not sound too serious, you could send a squad of men over the hill and they might be able to deal with the situation. Or you could mount up the calvary and take the whole division over the hill. In this case a few bad guys, or even a bunch of bad guys would not be a problem. You bring the biggest hammer you have, and wham, you crush the problem.

If you had just sent a squad that was just big enough to take care of the reported problem, they might have had some trouble and called for reinforcements. The conflict might drag out for days while casualties accumulate and the bad guys continue to be a problem.

The same thing happens in business. Of course bringing the biggest hammer to bear on a problem is expensive, but so is continually fighting the same old battle. It is a judgement call on when to deploy your larger forces, but there is enough expertise available in business that a reasonable decision can be made. If you are not an idiot. Unfortunately, most managers seem to be idiots. Or their hands are tied by higher ups in the company, who are not willing to let their managers manage. We need smaller empires with larger discretionary budgets. Large empires are for large stable businesses, which seems to attract many people. When you are on the front lines of new business opportunities, a large empire is not what you want or need. A small force capable of independent action, which means an independent budget.

Movies

Watched a bunch of movies this last week:

The Simpsons - Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa & Maggie Wednesday
The Contract - Morgan Freeman & John Cusack Friday
Shooter - Mark Wahlberg & Danny Glover Saturday
The Bourne Identity - Matt Damon Sunday
The Bourne Supremacy - Matt Damon Monday
Cadavers & Chaos Tuesday
Blind something Tuesday
Miami Vice Tuesday
The Bourne Ultimatum - Matt Damon Wednesday

The Simpsons Movie was just fine, typical Simpson zaniness on the big screen.

The Contract - Morgan Freeman & John Cusack Friday
Shooter - Mark Wahlberg & Danny Glover Saturday
These two were both assassin movies with a black man playing the bad guy. "The Shooter" was the better movie, though a complex double cross left some of us wondering what the heck was going on.
In "The Contract" stars Morgan Freeman as paid assassin and John Cusack as widowed ex-cop and father. All in all, not too great. Had some good bits. Vicious hit-and-run murder, good technique for assassination, makes it look like an accident.

After the first "accident", Morgan has a second accident. At first I thought this was part of his plan, but he bungled it by wrecking his own vehicle. Turns out it was a real accident. The other party wasn't even a target. Bad luck, he dies, Morgan goes to the hospital, where the police figure out who he is and call the Police with a capital P.

Three marshals come to pick up bad guy Morgan from a small town. They are driving back when the road is blocked by a semi-tractor with a flat tire. To us sophisticated urban movie goers, it is an obvious ambush, especially when the black van pulls up behind them, but the cops just don't get it and they pay for their poor evil sensing abilities: bang, bang, bang. Two dead and one severely wounded.

Whole gang of professional, vicious, cold-blooded killers taken out by an ex-cop, a kid, and a woman. Right. Woman's annoying boyfriend is the first one our hiking group to get it, and boy are we glad, he was really annoying.

Ex-cop and Mr. Annoying spend precious seconds, minutes even, knocking down a rickety bridge. Removing the bridge is going to slow down their pursuers by a minute, maybe two. It doesn't really look like it was worth the effort. The bridge was a simple catwalk over a boulder field. It was interesting to see that someone thought it was worth the effort to build it in the first place. Or maybe they just built it for the movie.

Ex-cop expends two entire magazines from a sub-machine gun shooting at the back end of a helicopter and does not manage to kill anyone or disable the aircraft. He does damage the aircraft and it eventually crashes, however, it does not explode, which is a change from most helicopter movie crashes. So we have a non-exploding helicopter crash. You have to give them credit for that, even though it was not the most realistic. The tail boom snaps off in the middle, the Plexiglas windows appear to be very flimsy. The rotor blades coming off and flying toward the audience was a good effect.

The Bourne Identity - Matt Damon Sunday
The Bourne Supremacy - Matt Damon Monday
Anne wanted to see these to refresh her memory in preparation for watching the new Bourne movie at the theater. Had to reserve the first one at the rental store in order to watch. Seems like everyone else had the same idea. Ended up buying the second one ($10 at Freddies) . Great stuff. The fights are brutal. The car chases are a little long and a little confusing. The scenes change so fast I cannot keep track of exactly what is going on where, not that it really matters, I think all they are aiming for is the visceral impact of cars getting hammered.

Land of the Blind - Ralph Fiennes & Donald Sutherland. It started out looking like it might be good, but it went over the top real quick and we lost interest. So we tried:

Cadavers & Chaos, a British comedy done by people who had done some other stuff that I thought was funny, but nothing tickled our funny bone in the first fifteen minutes, so we ended up watching an episode from:

Miami Vice - Season Two. The episode was "French Twist" with Lisa Eichhorn, who starred in "Yanks". I don't remember the movie but my wife did, and she remembered Lisa having a part in it. Watching these old Miami Vice episodes is kind of painful now, but when they were new Anne and I used to watch them all the time. The scenes and scenery are still good. The clothes and hair are always interesting, some are good, some are just wacky. It's an interesting place to visit.

The Bourne Ultimatum - Matt Damon Wednesday
Saw this one at the theater this evening. Nicki shows up again and I was worried that she would get killed, after all, everyone else in this movie dies. Looks like the perpetrators of this evil black ops organization are going to get their comeuppance. And they leave it open for another sequel.

Friday, August 3, 2007

I'm back

from ten days in Chicago and points North. I suppose I should have posted a note that I would be gone, but I was paranoid about the North Koreans finding out and coming to wreak havoc on my orderly little world. Of course, I do not know for sure that it is the North Koreans who are always hiding things, I am just picking on them because they are my whipping boy for the day/week/month/whatever.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Return

Got up early and went for a couple of rides in the water park with John and Kathryn. I guess they were fun. It was good to be in the water. I think it was salt.

Leave the resort at 12:20 pm. 75 mph almost all the way back to O'Hare. Traffic slows down a bit when we get into the metro area. Had to stop for gas in Madison and again just outside the airport. Promised to fill it up when I picked it up. Stopped to pay tolls four times again. Saw a sign after the last toll stop that said something like: "forget your toll, pay online at www.tollbooth.com" or some such. Which makes me think I could have skipped this tollbooth thing, which would have been really nice. I mean here we are cruising down the road, making good time, and now we have to pull over, stop, and sit in line and wait for Uncle Dufus to dig the 847 pennies out of his pants pocket to pay the stupid 80 cent toll. Actually the lines were not that long, and we did not have to wait long, but it was still dumb. Next time I will just drive by and see if they ever catch up with me.

We get to the airport in plenty of time. Attendant at the rental car company checks us in, right where I pull up using her hand held computer. Prints me a receipt on the spot and tells me I am good to go. There is a total on the receipt but I have no idea if it is anything like it should be. I spent four days in Chicago paying double for everything and then four days in Wisconsin not spending anything. At this point I have no idea what a rental car should cost.

We spend about ten minutes waiting in the shade of the portable office for a shuttle to take us to the terminal. The first one is full of people who arrived AFTER we did and cannot take us. The second one is right behind it and there is plenty of room for all of us and all of our baggage. Thank goodness there is no beer.

We are so early, the skycap puts us on standby for an earlier flight. Supposedly there are 50 available seats and we are number 20 on the list. But by the time that flight is boarding, all the seats are full and there is no standby, so we move on to our regularly scheduled gate and settle in to wait. Actually we all dump our stuff there and my family leaves me with the carryons and spreads out looking for whatever there is to amuse them in an airport. Food and magazines. Bah. I do latch on to a fruit salad and a bottle of water.

This time the plane is an Airbus 320, and the legroom is not nearly as great as it was on the flight coming here. This must be "Economy Minus". But they are playing a movie I haven't seen: "Spider Man 3". It wasn't that great but it kept me amused, and I do like Mary Jane. After that it was just boredom. I was too tired to read, but not tired enough to sleep. Annoying things were playing on the video screen, but without any sound it was tolerable.

Eventually we got to Portland. Our luggage was already there, it went out on the earlier flight. We just had to haul it out to shuttle bus platform to catch the shuttle back to the Radisson. No beer this time, thank goodness. Picked up a shuttle phone in the baggage claim area to call the hotel and halfway through the phone call the cord falls out of the hand piece. Things are falling apart left and right. We got back to house sometime around midnight.